Day 19: The Captain

Today is Day 19 of the Omer. Hod sheb’tiferet. Compassion that leads to Gratitude.

If you know one thing about Knicks great Willis Reed, it’s probably his heroic appearance in Game 7 of the 1970 Finals vs. the Los Angeles Lakers. After suffering a torn thigh muscle in Game 5, his team rallied to victory, but they were clearly outmatched against the Lakers in Game 6. With the series tied 3-3, there was significant doubt that Reed would be able to play at all. But on one leg, he inspired the Knicks and Madison Square Garden for a historic win.  

That year, Reed became the first player in NBA history to be named the NBA All-Star Game MVP, the NBA regular season MVP, and the NBA Finals MVP in the same season. A tough, undersized center, Reed was a 7x All-Star, who averaged 18.7 points and 12.9 rebounds/game in his Hall of Fame career.

As the heart of the team and the player that kept everyone together, Reed was known as The Captain. It’s this role and this spirit that makes him the choice on Day 19, hod sheb’tiferet. Hod (splendor, gratitude, humility) is associated with the Biblical figure of Aaron, who acted as a peacemaker, keeping the Israelites together during their long journey through the wilderness. 

I was conflicted about choosing Reed and glorifying his return to the court in Game 7. The heart and toughness to play with a torn thigh muscle is incredible. It’s the kind of legendary performance that we are raised on as children. But Reed’s career ended a couple years later after numerous injuries and surgeries. 

After seeing Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant try to gut through injuries and further hurt themselves in the 2019 Finals, I can’t help but wonder if Reed’s career would have been extended if he hadn’t played in Game 7. Should Reed have protected his health and career by not playing? 

Reed doesn’t seem conflicted. His connection to his teammates and compassion for them, meant that for better or worse, he put the team before himself. While some might have been bitter, Reed seems at peace with his decision, grateful for the chance to play and win a championship, and grateful for a long career in the game of basketball. 

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